The alarm went off at 5am. I was aiming to be in a taxi between 5-5.45am. The journey to the start-line was only ten minutes away and we were advised to get there 90 minutes before the beginning (7am) – but I thought an hour would be more than enough time (very glad I did this!). The race was originally supposed to start at 6.30am but I found at the Expo they’d changed it to 7am which was good in terms of having more sleep but not as good in terms of the temperature.
In the morning I got my kit on, including my dad’s jumper to throwaway at the start as it was cool in the early morning, popped my porridge in the microwave that I’d prepared the night before (we were staying in an apartment with a kitchen), went to the loo and said goodbye to my mum. She was heading down to the finish area around 7am to mosey about and catch me running.I had a mini porridge meltdown, literally! My amazing container I’d gotten from Waitrose (yes Waitrose) the day before had melted a bit! (I had no milk but brought a sachet of chocolate protein powder which helped make it taste a bit less bland).
I had no time and no other breakfast options so I just took it with me and hoped I’d not die from plastic contamination.
I got a taxi (they work 24/7) and asked him to take me to the marathon start and after he looked confused I clarified with the Dubai Police Academy. As we got closer to the start area he said to me the roads were closed and couldn’t go any further. He still looked confused when I explained I knew and it was due to the marathon. The marathon was not really known about to people who weren’t involved. I jumped out and surveyed the start area.It was super foggy and dark. It wasn’t that cold – maybe 12-15 degrees Celsius? Positively balmy for us Brits 😉 I ate my porridge (didn’t taste of plastic. Win!), drank my Beet It! shot and then decided to find the loos. The loos (not portable loos but more like posh proper temporary loos) were literally a 10 minutes walk away from the start.There were no loos near the start. I went to the loo, then walked back to the start. It was 6.15ish… 45 minutes to go. So I turned around and walked back to the loo again. Might as well! Nothing else to do.What I really didn’t like was that as the start is right next to the finish we could see all the boxes of medals and could see the finish-line. In fact we had to walk through it. I was getting very bad joujou! What was odd as well was that there were non-runners in this area supporting their runners. So you’d see people clearly not going to be running the marathon (in jeans and flip flops etc.) just hanging around the start area. I guess that’s not too odd but it felt weird as normally you’re separated at this point.Then they opened up the proper start but where we could see the start funnel thing. As we walked along there were barriers keeping us in and on the other side of the barriers and road I spotted more loos… a couple spotted them too and conspiratorially we all decided to hop the barriers and use them quickly. The security didn’t look very happy and when I tried to re-hop back over the security tried to stop me but I begged them to let me through rather than walk all the way back round. Very cheeky I know. They kindly let me through, telling me to go quickly. Whew! I ran across the road and then did a Tom Cruise barrel roll over the final barrier and felt like a superhero 😉 I got a few chuckles from other runners.There were lots of different nationalities. Lots of Americans and Brits. I saw some Poles, some Swedes… a good mix! And then we were off!I’d been worried about my calf but as I started running it felt fine. Good good. But we’re only on mile one. It was less foggy now as the sun was rising. The first “chunk” of the race was the 10k out and back. This was the route that the 10k race (starting a few hours later) would be doing.I’d broken the race down in my head in the most obviously way: 10k, then the two loops (another out and back that runs up the Jumeriah Beach Road). I assumed the loop was around 10 miles.As I was running I felt mentally in a very bad place. I had a lot of anxiety in my tummy that I’d never felt before. Normally I’m really excited when the marathon actually begins. It’s all “oooh” and “ahh” and fresh and lovely at the beginning. You’re running a marathon! This is cool! Look at me go! But not this time.I was dreading the course. I had no major milestones to get excited about, no major variations in the course to prepare for. Just a lot of long roads. As I’d felt this way leading up to the marathon in the days before (especially after seeing the road I was going to run along) I’d prepared for this by creating a “feel good” playlist. Normally I only listen to music in the last 10k to power me through to the finish.But I decided I’d have some music to power me through the first boring bits – but not “go go go” music. Just music I enjoyed and could zone out to.I made myself wait until the first 10k was over though before starting it. I wanted to make it really worth it after a chunk of silence. I really needed a wee (yes another one) but there weren’t many loos on the course. I saw people dash into nearby bushes and I realised I’d run out of bushes soon as we got onto the main loop as it would be buildings and shops on the sides, whereas the first 10k was going past fancy hotels with big foliage areas and the beach. I was clearly umming and arr’ing about it as he man next to me laughed and said “just go and do it!” So I dashed off and under what I can only describe as a very light coverage had a quick wee. I imagine several people probably saw my bum. Hey ho.As I headed to the first loop I saw my mum ahead. That really boosted my mood up! I was so chuffed she’d gotten there safely and I’d seen her! She’s not quite my dad’s levels of support (physically I mean, my mum supports in other ways too of course).So I finished the first 10k, whacked the playlist on and zoned out. Ahh just what I needed. I felt much better – music and seeing my mum. My calf felt absolutely fine – hurrah! I still didn’t feel well tho. I could feel I wasn’t quite right – but I kept an eye on my heart rate to make sure it didn’t start to spike really high. It seemed OK.There were no mile markers, just kilometres. I tried to work out how the first “out” of the first loop was but my brain couldn’t do it. This frustrated me as I wanted to know how far I’d be running away from the finish. It didn’t help that because it was two laps the km markers were mixed up with the laps.I tried not to think too deeply that I’d be back on that same stretch after a few hours… The Burj Al Arab (above photo) was basically at the point when you’d start the next lap. It’s a fantastic building but ultimately quite dull after you’ve seen it once. And literally the only landmark on the course (there’s probably more and this is very narrow minded of me to say).What I noticed a lot of was runners who had friend(s) cycling next to them keeping them company. There was enough space on the wide roads (nothing like the closeness of some other big marathons like London or Berlin). It seemed bizarre them being there. But I guess nice for people to support in this way. I also saw a guy running while kicking a football which was fun to watch! Turns out he was trying to break the world record. I don’t know if he managed it and I’ve tried Googling but to no avail!A cool sports car thing drove past and I tried to get a selfie next to it as it was driving slowly.Finally I started to see people running down the other side of the road and this gave me some indication that the turning point was coming up. I tried to do the maths again by using the km markers on the other side of the road to work out how far it would be. It made my brain hurt.Finally I reached the turnaround point. It was a relief to be heading back down towards the end of the loop, though I knew I had a way to go yet.The sun was now shining and it was warm. Every water station I grabbed a water (mini bottles), took a gulp then tipped it over my head, arms and legs. This helped keep me cool for a chunk of time. I was glad I’d decided to take my sunglasses with me as there was no shade. Speaking of the water stations, they were quite disorganised at the beginning. Some of them by even set up and the volunteers scrabbling in the plastic to grab the bottles and get them set out in time. There were energy drinks in cans but I didn’t try any, and no gels or fruit. They did have sponges and buckets of water tho. There were Nike cheer groups (I think they were Nike!) and other local running groups tho who were great and waved flags, clapped and cheered and handed out extra water and trays of fruit.As I got to 13 miles I decided to switch to a podcast (to maximise the effect of my music at mile 20). That helped pass the time. The road was so long and the fact I couldn’t see the Burj Al Arab ahead further clarified how I’d be on this same road for a good chunk of time. The buildings on either side were just shops. I made little milestones in my head (Starbucks, KFC, Costa…). I spotted a guy taking a photo of his friend (neither of them running) in front of the course so I’d dived behind and photo bombed it. They laughed and cheered me which was good! Finally I got back to the Burj Al Arab and knew I’d be turning soon (my 3rd turning it of a total of 4 in the entire race FYI).I spotted my mum again which was great. And then as I hit the turnaround bit I saw her again as I started my second loop.It was nice to see a friendly face and I updated her that I felt hot and tired but was OK. Just over nine miles to go.Whew, second loop. Last time I’d run on that road now. But jeeze did it go on and on. I worked out I’d have four miles to run up it. Four miles in a single direction is flipping awful by the way. With every step forward I knew would mean one step further away from the finish that I’d have to run the other way. It was mentally destroying.As I hit 18 miles (that’s me trying to show my watch in the selfie above) I was mentally struggling. The road was killing me. It was just so long and straight. The sun was beating down. There weren’t many people around me to latch on to. It was tough.I tried to grab some energy from the spectators by waving and smiling and clapping – that always helps get them cheering you which boosts you along I find. Plus it’s nice for them rather than you just being another miserable looking runner 😉 I hadn’t taken any gels yet as I hadn’t felt completely right but now my energy had dipped I decided to have one. I threw the other away – I wouldn’t use it and didn’t want to carry it. Any extra baggage was draining right now.I couldn’t wait to get to “just a parkrun to go”. I was using road signs, spectators ahead… anything to break down the distance. I started counting down the kilometres and they seemed to crawl by so slowly. Despite this my pace had picked up. I went past a man and he asked where my energy had come from. I replied I just wanted to finish.I took the above selfie at “one parkrun to go”… that was my thinking with the single finger ha! Around me a lot of people were walking. Though a man overtook me looking strong and peeled ahead so I kept him in my sight and tried to use him to drag me along. We were both overtaking quite a few people. It was so hot. I was still pouring water on myself to keep cool. I got a notification on my watch saying my dad had text saying “just a parkrun to go” from my dad which was JUST what I needed. Yes he was slightly out of sync as I only had just under two miles to go now but it was so nice to know he was tacking and spurring me on.
I saw the bloody Burj Al Arab again and then the sign for “To the Finish”. Yes! Less than a mile to go and I was on the edge. My legs felt like they were going through porridge. Surprisingly my pace was still good… just hold on! It was literally a case of mind over matter. One foot in front of the other. The final straight to the finish was the WORST. The finish funnel seemed miles ahead. There were spectators either side of the road but not vast numbers. I just tried to not stop. My legs were struggling! And then I finished. Whew.
My god. Stopping I felt dizzy and exhausted. I lent on the barrier and just thanked everything holy that I could finally stop running. My time was 3:39:58, just dipping under 3:40. Very pleased indeed!I shuffled along with the other runners, got my medal, some water, a banana, a protein bar, some vitamin water and then tried to find my way out. It was really confusing and I had no idea where to go. I mean, I was post-marathon confused so that didn’t help! I decided to ring my mum as that would be the most sensible thing to do to find her. Bless her she hadn’t realised I’d finished, despite sitting in the stands at the finish-line.Thankfully we found each other fairly quickly. We decided to head to the Souk Madinat Jumeirah which was nearby so we could sit and take a moment. We knew there was a Starbucks in there. It seemed a fitting place to collapse – it’s exactly what we did when I did the Boston Marathon!I also wanted to meet up with the lovely Lily who writes the blog Lily Lipstick who currently lives in Dubai. She was actually the one that first got me thinking about doing the marathon and originally she’d even offered to let me stay at hers. But then my mum fancied joining and it seemed sensible to get a hotel. Lily has helped me so much with all my Dubai related questions (what I could wear, where to go, what plugs I’d need etc.). She was doing the 10k which started at 9am and we were going to meet and have lunch but annoyingly my mum and I had to check-out of our hotel at 2pm (originally we were told 11am, which wouldn’t have been possible at all but thankfully we negotiated 2pm before I booked). 2pm was still this was pushing it as I needed to get back and shower. I messaged Lily telling her we were in Starbucks and she said she’d come and join and have a coffee with us.Lily brought her boyfriend and the four of us sat and chatted with iced coffees. It was lovely. It was so nice to chat and hear about Dubai from them – as they both live and work there. But we were both hot and shattered from the run!
My mum was tired too, bless her. She’d walked a long way as well. It was the hottest day so far. After the coffee we parted ways and my mum and I had a tricky job of trying to find a taxi to get us back to the hotel. The roads were only just opening up after the marathon and the road the marathon took place on is quite a busy one so hailing a cab is very tricky. A car, that didn’t look like the traditional taxi, stopped and said he was a taxi and we jumped in. Reading that sentence… yes I know. Absolute idiots the two of us. I told him the hotel name and area and he said OK, though unlike most of the other taxi drivers he didn’t speak English.
He took us on an unfamiliar route but it made sense at the time as the roads were still closed in different places. At one point we went over a dirt track and I suddenly felt scared. Where were we? He could do anything right now. We were very, very stupid looking back. We did that ridiculous British thing though of not saying anything and waiting it out rather than questioning where we were going. When he eventually stopped we were not in our hotel area at all. I was like “er no this isn’t it”. So he made me type into his phone on Google Maps the hotel name. Thankfully we weren’t far away. When we stopped outside the RIGHT place this time he asked for 50AED. Now from the area we were in to the hotel I knew it should have been around 20AED had we gone straight there. I point blank refused and said “no way, I’ll pay 30”. He argued with me and honestly I would have only give 30 had I not had only two 20s. It was his lucky day. We got out of that taxi very fast.
The rest of the day… I won’t bore you. We had a long day ahead as our flight was at 2:50am. I had a fairly rough time of it as I was getting some seriously bad stomach cramps and starting to feel the effects of running through not being well. Thankfully I was able to eat (when am I not, let’s be honest) and topped up my calories sufficiently through the day. To be honest, the choice of restaurant was just the closest one. I’m not a huge Italian fan (not liking pasta…) but we ended up in an Italian restaurant purely because the host mentioned they do burgers. SOLD!I had a double burger with fries. Bliss. Later on after we meandered around the Jumeriah Beach Resort area and then down the Marina we chilled out in another Starbucks with a coffee and a giant doughnut (for me). Perfection.So in closing, I don’t recommend the Dubai Marathon. It is mentally tough with the boring course and physically hard with the heat (it was a hot heat and not a humid heat thankfully). It didn’t have the glamour of the Majors despite being a bigger marathon and it felt rather lonely at times as the course was so wide and the numbers not big enough. But it’s done and I’m pleased. And the calf survived! It feels fine… though the real test will be when I get running again.
Have you ever been to Dubai?
Have you ever run a boring course? How did you get through?
Have you ever run when ill?